Flower Power

We had a change of venue for the summer staff meeting. Instead of the typical stuffy conference room, one of the managers opened up her home to the group—well, actually, she opened her yard since the house itself was too small to accommodate all of us.

Any outdoor even in this part of the world is a pretty risky proposition, even in August, because the weather can turn grumpy in nothing flat. Fortunately, the sun stuck with us throughout the afternoon. And the food, as I may have mentioned, was supreme.

Unfortunately there was one awkward moment. About midway through the agenda, I looked down to find the hostess’s cat attempting to make sweet love to my shoe—with my foot still in it. Picture Pepé LePew at his most insistently amorous—that’s the sort of attention that the cat was inflicting on my shoe. I tired tucking my foot under me to discourage Mr. Romance Kitty, but he jumped into my lap and attempted to retrieve the shoe from above, which, as you might imagine, was a bit of a scene. We finally had to interrupt a fascinating discussion about the finer points of library administration so that I could explain the hypnotic effect my footwear sometimes has on cats. See, this year I noticed an unusually large crop of volunteer catnip sprouting between my patio pavers. Normally, I’d pluck these seedlings out with the rest of the weeds, but since marauding neighborhood cats had decimated my usual catnip patch, I decided to let it go ahead and grow. It wasn’t long before the act of walking across the patio began to transfer the magic aroma onto my shoes. These are shoes I normally wouldn’t wear to work, but they seemed just right for a potentially muddy staff meeting. I had no idea they would become the center my manager’s cat’s borderline pornographic fantasies.

So, to end the distraction, I surrendered my shoe to the cat by taking it off and tossing it behind a bush where it and the kitty could continue their courtship in the privacy they both deserved. At the end of the meeting, when I rescued my shoe, it was still damp. Ew.

My patio has looked like hell most of the summer with weedy clumps of catnip growing everywhere. But I harvested it all today, and it’s not a bad yield for a volunteer effort. I’ll let it dry on racks in the garage for a couple of days before making the kids strip the leaves off the stems and store them in Ziploc baggies (when I made them do this chore last year, it was the first time in recorded history that they actually insisted on taking showers in the daytime). Our special “Meowie Wowie” blend has proven very popular with our cat-burdened friends. Just don’t get pulled over with a baggie of it in your car. You really don’t want to be in the position of saying, “No, really, Officer—it’s just catnip.”

This is enough ‘nip to see my two cats through the winter plus most of the cats in our extended cat network.

USDA inspectors get to work grading the newly harvested crop.



I think the tendency toward self-flagellation for grammatical errors, both real and imagined, must be a uniquely English trait. I read a handful of blogs from England regularly and am always amused at the frequency of parenthetical apologies for splicing infinitives and dangling participles. These crop up, not only in the middle of posts, but in the comments too! And if one isn’t quick to acknowledge their own grammatical infractions with an immediate mea culpa, there’s sure to be a subsequent commenter to gleefully dissect them in full public view.
I read at least as many American blogs and can’t remember a single instance of any such apology appearing in them. The closest I’ve seen are a few writers who occasionally need to unburden the guilt that results from the gratuitous use of italics, bold type, and parentheses. These writers, however, seem to feel guilty about these trespasses not because they are somehow in error, but merely because they are an unnecessary indulgence—much the same way I feel about chocolate. The mere admission that they know these habits are somehow wrong seems to empower them to carry on committing them anyway, just like acknowledging, “I really shouldn’t have any more,” makes taking yet another Hershey Kiss from the candy dish seem reasonable.

My best theory is that Americans can maintain such a casual stance toward grammar because we speak a language that isn’t named for our country. It’s easy for us to shrug off the finer points of grammar and revert to communicating with grunted phrases such as “and stuff like that,” and “ya know what I mean?” because there’s no element of national pride in it for us. But I guess if you’re English and can’t expertly navigate the English language, you have slightly more at stake.

Then again, maybe Americans have simply played fast and loose with the language since we held certain truths to be self-evident. Who knows?

But let’s hear it for the English language. Without it, we’d be left to attempt to communicate solely through gestures. And anyone who ever drives a freeway could easily predict how that would affect international relations.

On a completely unrelated topic, I had to remind Howser tonight that, since I’ve already had all the children I intend to conceive, if I can’t rely on him for yard work and the occasional minor automotive repair, he’s really out-lived his usefulness to me. Sometimes only the blunt approach works when it comes to getting his potted ass out from in front of the computer. I think Dr. Phil would call this “Tough Love.”

The Ghost of Republicans Past

I was driving down the road yesterday, just passing the Piranha Bar, when I saw something on the side of the road that scared the hell out of me. I glanced toward the shoulder and caught a glimpse of one of those election campaign signs that clutter up the roadsides this time of year. I can normally drive past them without even seeing them, but this one was different. It was your standard sort of red and blue cardboard rectangle decorated with white lettering, but in the split second it took me to glance at it, the name “Reagan” flashed before my eyes. And then it was gone.

WTF???? Reagan??? Isn’t he dead?

I, of course, am not the sort of person who celebrates another human being’s death—not even a Republican’s. I would never do that. But last year, when we got all that Reagan funeral footage from Washington D.C. and California, I don’t think I was the only one who felt the tiniest bit of relief that the whole Reagan era had come to an irrefutable end. For me, it was the same sort of relief you might feel at the end of a vampire movie when they FINALLY drive the stake through the rancid heart of the demon. The villagers can rest easy in the sure knowledge that the monster will never rise again.

Then, a year later, you glance at the side of the road and see a Reagan campaign sign? What is this, some sort of cheesy horror movie sequel?

And then I remembered. One of his sons lives up here. Was the junior Reagan now pursuing a political career? Did he plan to cut his teeth on local politics before launching onto the national scene? It was making me terribly jittery. Jittery enough that when I got home, I went on-line to do a bit of research. The current administration has already exhausted my patience with the concept of “Republicans: The Next Generation.” I don’t need any more of that, thank you very much.

Luckily, I discovered that the sign I had seen was for a candidate merely named after Ronald Reagan rather than spawned from him. Reagan was his given named, one that doomed him, I guess, to the pursuit of public office. Phew. That was close.

I’ve seen a few more of these signs, and can now pass by without worrying. They’ve become just another part of the scenery.

But today a different one caught my eye. This one said “Nixon.” No, it can’t be!

But doesn’t one of the Nixon brothers live up this way???

God, I hate election years.

Staff Meeting, The Best Restaurant In Town!

It’s staff meeting day today, so I’m off to do some laps on the treadmill in anticipation. This will be my third staff meeting since being hired, and I now know exactly what to expect: enough food and pie to make Thanksgiving dinner look like a coffee break at Weight Watchers. That’s really all that I remember from my first two meetings. Today, however, the agenda might actually be meatier than the menu because the Big Cheese (sorry, there’s just an overabundance of food imagery running through my brain at this point) just announced an organization-wide restructuring—the sort of corporate blood-letting that has most of my co-workers wailing and gnashing their teeth. Me, I’m a part time employee with four months worth of service. If my job evaporates while the pot gets stirred, I won’t be crying for too long. It’s like that song lyric—“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” I don’t have much to loose here. If I were laid off I could walk away with no hard feelings and maybe do something a little more ambitious. You know, clean the house or something. Maybe even the hamster cage.

But I would miss those staff meetings. Or at least the refreshments.

I’d better go hike now. I made the mistake of eating breakfast already and need to work off some calories before meeting time.

P.S. – Phil, if you have any luck getting your mom to care for your potted plant, let me know. Maybe I can use that strategy on my ficus.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Write About Hamsters

I am in the midst of a long weekend at the moment, and, with nothing in particular planned, I’ve been spending much of my time reading my way through Blogsylvania. The emerging trend this weekend is posts that begin with a pledge to NOT write about Hurricane Katrina, because, frankly, enough already. And then these bloggers perversely go on to write another 500+ words about that very topic. I guess it’s abuse when other people flog a dead horse but a humane attempt at euthanasia when these bloggers do the same.

So I am not going to write about Hurricane Katrina. Instead, I’m going to write about hamsters!

Okay, not really. I’ve inflicted enough Hamster related nonsense on you to last a life time (or at least a couple of more weeks), so I will show rare self-restraint and NOT write about hamsters.

Now, having made the above statement, I am free to write on about hamsters. I think that’s the way this works based on my recent survey.

Luckily, I really don’t have all that much to say about hamsters at the moment. I just wanted to share one piece of trivia with you that Herb and I discovered in a library book that I forced him at gunpoint to read with me when it became tragically clear that a hamster was in our future (Herbie doesn’t read recreationally; only under extreme duress can he be persuaded to pick up a book). And that piece of trivia is this:

Did you know that, if given access to an exercise wheel, a hamster can run up to two miles a night? Seriously, two miles!

Here’s what I want to know: How can anything four inches long and built like a potato run two miles in a single night? I myself have a much broader wingspan than any hamster, and you won’t find me running any two miles—at least not voluntarily.

Just another one of the animal kingdom’s enduring mysteries….

(Illustration swiped from Jim Gordon)

I May Not Have Approached This With the Proper Attitude

“Rainier Middle School OPEN HOUSE. Thursday, 7:00 – 8:45 pm. Please join us at 7:00 pm in the Gymnasium for a brief presentation regarding school-wide programs. At approximately 7:15 pm you will be dismissed to your child’s first period class. You will follow your child’s schedule for the evening. We will be providing you with an evening time schedule and a map of the building to assist you.”

It should be obvious that there are two main problems with the foregoing invitation. First, after adding travel time, the school is asking for a good two hours of our lives—two hours spent back in the Hell-on-Earth which is middle school. And, since this is a parent-only event, attending would require us to pay a babysitter three hours’ worth of wages or to cross our fingers and hope our children are capable of spending an evening without endangering themselves or each other. Fat chance of finding a babysitter and fatter chance that the kids won’t assault each other in our absence. Fabulous.

The second problem is perhaps the bigger affront: No where in the text of this invitation can you find the words, “Open Bar.”

Nevertheless, we strapped the kids into their straight jackets and muzzles (since a babysitter wasn’t available) and trotted off to the middle school to get a flavor of our daughter Peaches’s current life.

It’s amazing how quickly otherwise reasonable adults can revert to junior high mentality once under the roof of the local middle school. I couldn’t stop myself from making snotty, sarcastic comments just under my breath as the principal droned on and on at the assembled parents. Howser elbowed me and suggested that I should try for the teacher rather than the student perspective. Good advice, but I’ve never taught middle school, only high school. Yes, that’s right—I used to be a high school English teacher. Here we shall observe a brief moment of silence to allow anyone visiting this site from England to hang his head and shed a tear; please accept my apologies for all the damage I and my fellow Americans (especially my former students and our current president) have inflicted on your native tongue.

Do we all feel strong enough to carry on? Good. Let’s continue.

The main thing the evening did for me was to improve my attitude about my present age. I may find a few more gray hairs every day, but at least I’ll never have to go back to middle school. I feel so sorry for Peaches. I was spitting mad at the whole place in less than two hours. She’s going to have to spend the next three years of her life with those people. You’d think things would have improved since the dark epoch when Howser and I were her age, and a few things have. In fact, there was just one aspect of the school that hadn’t shown a hint of evolution over the past thirty years: the P.E. department. I especially loved their policy forcing parents to take their child to the doctor if he or she misses P.E. for more than two days. After that point, parents can’t be trusted to judge their own child too sick to participate. Parents are required to go to the time and expense to of an otherwise unnecessary medical appointment merely because the P.E. teachers don’t trust them to exercise their own judgment. It all makes me wonder if, as part of the licensing process, P.E. teachers are still required to demonstrate their own physical flexibility by inserting their heads up their asses. I suspect so.

Like the saying goes, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach P.E.”

Thank God each and every day you draw breath that you are no longer in middle school. I know I do.

(P.S. Did anyone see “Blogs of Note” tonight? It featured a site called–get this–lookathisbutt.blogspot.com. The main focus of this noted blog is evidently William Shatner’s southern hemisphere. And you all thought I had too much time on my hands–ha!)

Good News!

A new season of Dr. Phil has begun. Let us rejoice and be glad!

How to be Passive Aggressive:

How does the passive aggressive male celebrate his wedding anniversary?

1) He wakes up to the sound of his wife whispering in his ear, “Happy anniversary, Darling. It’s been X wonderful years.” Without thinking, he sits bolt upright in bed and yells, “Oh shit! Is that today?!?”

2) He watches his wife give birth to his baby on the day before their anniversary. He goes to the hospital gift shop to buy a flower arrangement, selecting a free card large enough to inscribe with both events, thinking, “Cool. Two for the price of one!”

3) He watches his wife struggle to maintain a certain level of fitness and health while he allows himself to go to pot. She succeeds in losing weight and makes maintaining her success part of her daily routine. He buys her a THREE POUND box of chocolates for their wedding anniversary.

Guess which one(s) of the above stunts Howser has pulled. Go ahead. It shouldn’t be that hard…

Hamster Suicide Hotline, May I Help You?

I should never be allowed to own hamsters. I don’t want to go into details here, but my sordid history with hamsters is a multi-part saga fraught with bloodshed and heartbreak. They should make a mini-series about it, like Roots, or maybe just a movie-of-the-week. Or an after-school special on Animal Planet. Or at least a public service announcement on PBS. Anyway, if there were an on-line registry for hamster offenders (the same as they have for sex offenders), my name would be on it. Rodents would be out picketing in front of my house. I’d have to move the whole family out of state.

What I’m trying to make clear is that I should never live under the same roof with a hamster.

So, of course, what does Herbie start bugging us about the minute that damn Hamtaro cartoon premiers? You got it. “Mom, when can I get a hamster?” (Notice the use of the presumptive sell—that’s my boy.)

“When pigs fly, my boy. When the South rises again. When you can ski down the ice-coated sides of the smoking peaks of Hell. That’s when.”

“So, September sounds good. We can make it a birthday present!”

“Let me make this perfectly clear, Herbie: there will be no—and I mean NO—hamsters in this house. Ever. Unless someday I die alone in this house, and hamsters find their way inside to gnaw on my forgotten and moldering remains, you will never see me and a hamster in this house at the same time. Never. As in Not Ever. Got it? NEVER.”

So the next day he goes to Howser and asks, “Dad, when can we get a hamster?”

“Well,” says Howser, “You’d have to have a cage first. They make some really cool hamster cages these days.”

“Could I get one of those balls that the hamster can use to roll across the floor too?”

“Let’s go on-line and see what we can find!”

This, of course, started them down a road from which there was no turning back. They looked at all sorts pet store sites and read customer reviews of the various cages that are out there. Howser, being a potted ficus tree, is a bit of a shut-in, so on-line shopping is his specialty. Together, he and Herbie mentally moved into the Hamster Dream Castle before I even knew they were discussing the subject.

The next thing you know, a cute little teddy-bear hamster named Cinnamon has taken up residence in a multi-level rodent habitat on top of Herbie’s dresser. Everyone was very excited (especially the cat), except for me.

A hamster’s heart is a tiny little doomsday clock, ticking down the moments until the hamster shuffles off his fuzzy coil and leaves some unfortunate adult all alone to handle body disposal (can one flush a hamster? Anybody?) and a grief-stricken child. That day came, predictably, on Herbie’s birthday.

While Herb was still at school, some vague feeling of dread drew me to his room to check on the hamster. I checked the lobby level of Cinnamon’s cage first. Not finding him there, I turned the cage to get a better view into the penthouse. It was then that something fell into the connecting tube from above, landing with a thud against a wad of fetid bedding that I then saw was completely clogging the tube. Face first, as it turns out. As lively as a rock.

Great. Just great.

Evidently Cinnamon, a prodigious pooper from the outset, had become dissatisfied with the bedding he’d fouled in the penthouse. Unwilling to sleep in it, he kicked it down the tube until it was thoroughly clogged. As a result, he blocked off his airflow to the enclosed penthouse, and the blockage itself sent poisonous fumes up to where he was sleeping. In other words, he managed to commit suicide by self-asphyxiation. I only hope there was no auto-erotic element involved. This was going to be hard enough to explain to Herbie without getting into fetishes.

And just how was I going to get a dead hamster dislodged from an acrylic tube before Herbie got home? Finding the tube glued into place in the cage, I took the only reasonable course of action under the circumstances: I got a wire coat-hanger and twisted it into a hook.

After opening the penthouse, I could have gone after the body from above, but, being afraid I might accidentally spear it rather than simply hook it, I elected to use the hanger to start digging out the blockage from below. As I picked away at the wood shavings, I noticed Cinnamon’s back foot twitch. On one hand, a dying hamster might be better than a dead one. Herb would have a chance to say his goodbyes. On the other, we could end up with a rodent in a persistent vegetative state and have to debate about when to discontinue life support. The day was just getting better and better.

As I got more of the shavings loosened, Cinnamon’s head jerked to one side. When I finally dislodged the clog, the hamster slid out the bottom of the tube and took in a couple of huge breaths of air. Then he opened his eyes, much as Dorothy did at the end of the Wizard of Oz, and flipped back onto his stubby little paws. After staggering a couple of drunken turns on his exercise wheel, he was back to the business of begging for pumpkin seeds.

This was several days ago, and Cinnamon is still among the living. Herbie is none the wiser. Because, as it turns out, the best part about hamsters is that one who has suffered long-term brain damage due to lack of oxygen is virtually indistinguishable from any other hamster on the planet. And if Cinnamon ever succeeds at committing suicide in the future, at least it won’t be on Herbie’s birthday.

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